2018-09-08 / News

Wisconsin Pilot Missing After Plane Crashes Into Horseshoe Bay

By Erich T. Doerr


At left: A Coast Guard Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk from Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City searches for a private plane in Horseshoe Bay Saturday morning, September 1. The plane had crashed the night before while flying from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island. At left: A Coast Guard Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk from Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City searches for a private plane in Horseshoe Bay Saturday morning, September 1. The plane had crashed the night before while flying from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island. A small airplane crashed into the waters of Lake Huron just off St. Ignace Friday, August 31, just after taking off from the city’s Mackinac County Airport en route to Mackinac Island. The pilot, Ronald Dague, 64, of East Troy, Wisconsin, was the only person aboard the aircraft, a single engine Piper Lance, when it went down in Horseshoe Bay at about 9:49 p.m. Parts of the aircraft have been recovered, but the pilot remains missing. Recovery efforts continue on Lake Huron and the shoreline.

Friday evening, emergency services started receiving calls about the possibility of a crash immediately after it occurred, the crash having been visible from hotels, motels, and homes located along the waterfront in northern St. Ignace. Witnesses reported the plane was flying low, then banked to the side before they heard it hit the water.

Mackinac County sheriff deputies, Coast Guard personnel, and Mackinac Marine Rescue found some debris in the water shortly thereafter. Search continued into Saturday morning, joined by St. Ignace police and firefighters and a helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City. Deputies also searched the shoreline near the crash site. The Coast Guard called off its search just before 10 a.m. Saturday.

The Michigan State Police’s dive team was called in to assist and joined Coast Guard Station St. Ignace personnel in searching for the remains of the plane underwater. Using sonar equipment, the wreckage of the plane was located at the bottom of the bay approximately two miles southeast of Rabbit’s Back in 40 to 50 feet of water. The aircraft was recovered by the State Police and brought to shore Monday afternoon, September 3. An investigation into the cause of the crash involving the sheriff’s office, Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Board is ongoing.

Airport Manager Paul Fullerton said the pilot had flown to Mackinac Island Friday from the Milwaukee area to drop off five passengers for an evening on the Island. After his passengers disembarked, the pilot flew to the St. Ignace airport to fuel up his Piper, then went to eat at a downtown St. Ignace restaurant before returning to the airport to get his plane and fly back to Mackinac Island. The pilot planned to wait at the Island airport for the passengers, then fly them back to the Milwaukee area later that night. Mr. Fullerton heard the airplane take off from his office at the airport, and said the plane sounded normal as it departed.

He said the conditions Friday at the time of the accident were calm, but very dark. The sky was almost completely black as the plane took off because the moon had yet to rise.

Mr. Dague was the assistant district attorney for Milwaukee County, where district attorney John Chisholm said he was “a valued member of our General Crimes Unit and served with distinction in many capacities… since 1992…He was a gifted trial attorney, a devoted student of the law, and a passionate defender of equity, fairness, and justice. His advocacy helped build a safer community for everyone living in Milwaukee County.”

Mr. Dague is survived by a wife and daughter.

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